I’ve been trying to get to Australia for years, but for one reason or another I’ve never actually managed to find my way to the land of down under. Now though, at long last, I was finally in the country that many have told me I would fall in love with, I was at last in Australia.

Sydney, Australia.

My time in Australia was to be a lot shorter than I would have liked. A country that most travelers spend months in, I was visiting for just one week. With such limited time the choice of where to spend my time was an obvious one. It had to be Sydney.

As one of the most illustrious cities in the world Sydney has to be on your list of places you simply must see. It seems to lie back and bask in the sun in a way that only an Australian city could. Unruffled by the throng of the business that is done within it’s towering office blocks, Sydney stands among its peers with it’s top button undone and hair stylishly messy.

The view from the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon lookout


I was ‘couch surfing‘ while in Australia, that’s to say I didn’t stay in some forgettable budget hotel or hostel, but instead I was a guest in the homes of people who were kind enough to lend a traveller their couch and maybe a little of their time too.

It was the first time I’d ever ‘couch surfed’ anywhere after I joined the couch surfing website back in November. After making a few requests to stay on various couches (or spare rooms) just a few days before, three people offered to open their homes to me. I accepted two of these invitations.

I arrived at my first host’s apartment around 6pm. She welcomed me by saying she already had the kettle on for a cup of tea. “You’re an Englishman after all.” She told me, and a nice cup of tea is indeed a warm welcome for an Englishman on his travels. It didn’t take long before Kate’s welcome made me feel right at home in her apartment in Sydney, and “Wow!” I thought to myself, “I’m in Sydney!”

The couch surfing community in Sydney is quite extensive, so I was very quickly introduced to other hosts and surfers, an instant social group where travel is our commonality. Before long friendships were forming and plans to do stuff together were being hatched. Despite traveling alone, it soon became clear that there was no way I would be lonely.

The couch surfers I met while in Sydney.


Heading into the city for the first time I made my way to Circular Quay and Sydney’s iconic Opera House, one of the worlds most recognizable buildings. The place was thick with tourists slowly wandering around, posing for happy vacation pictures, looking at maps, and watching street performers. The sound of techno-enhanced didgeridoo music filled the air along with the constant drone of voices and footsteps.

I wandered slowly toward the Opera House, there was no hurry and I wanted to enjoy this introduction to such an unmistakable landmark. It was stunning, even more impressive up close than it was from afar. Covered in gleaming white and beige tiles I had to reach out and touch it, to claim the moment, like setting a flag in the ground after a voyage to an uncharted place. Millions of others have been here of course, but this was my first moment to stand beside this great building, this was my true arrival in Australia.

The iconic Sydney Opera House.


The next day I made my way back into the city. Without a map or an agenda I meandered along enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face and the carefree pace of my stroll. I took a bus across the Harbour Bridge then made my way back across it on foot, stopping at the Pylon to take in the view across the harbour on this beautiful day.

I jumped a water taxi just for the ride, then wandered over to the Royal Botanical Gardens where I sat on the grass and watched a small plane write the words “Call Mum” in smoke against a clear blue sky. Had it not been the middle of the night back in the UK I would have done just that.

As I sat there a man wandered past who looked very familiar to me. It looked like Fabian the Spaniard whom I had met back in Aitutaki. Surely this couldn’t be, I thought to myself, after all what would be the chances of such a meeting in a city of four and a half million people, not to mention the fact that we had previously met one another on a South Pacific lagoon island more than 3000 miles away! Sure enough though, it was indeed Fabian. We laughed about the coincidence then met up with my new couch surfing host, Lisa, for some dinner and a couple of beers.

A selection of the photographs I took while walking around Sydney.


After taking a helicopter flight over Wellington in New Zealand, I’d developed a taste for the rush of helicopter flying, so I couldn’t resist the chance to take to the skies over Sydney Harbour in another helicopter.

As a kid I used to watch the 1970’s Australian TV show ‘Chopper Squad,’ in which guys with funny accents flew around the Sydney beaches in a Surf Rescue helicopter rescuing girls in bikinis. Back then I was more interested in the helicopter than the girls in bikinis, though over time I developed a keen appreciation for the latter. I never lost my interest in helicopters though, and I couldn’t help but feel an echo of my wide eyed boyhood excitement as here I was – in Sydney, about to fly over those very beaches in a blue helicopter not unlike the one I watched on TV all those years ago.

My 9:30am tour flight took place in near perfect conditions. The sky was clear and the air was still, even the pilot himself said that we had chanced upon the best moment to take such a flight.

Sitting up front next to pilot as the noise of the rotor blades increased made me feel once more like I was the host of some TV travel show. These tours aren’t cheap but they’re worth every penny. Seeing the harbour, the Opera House, and the beaches from this unique perspective is priceless and the sheer thrill of the experience once again left me grinning from ear to ear.

A helicopter ride over Sydney, Australia.

Sydney, Australia.

Back on solid ground I met up with fellow couch surfer, Dirk, and a local whom we had met a couple of days before called Lisa. She was friends with my host, also called Lisa, and had kindly agreed to play tour guide for the day.

We jumped a ferry over to the Aquarium where we saw everything from crocodiles to dugongs, and anemones to sharks. Then we took another ferry over to Manly Beach where we felt decidedly over dressed as we watched surfers inexhaustibly ride the waves.

Rushing back into the city for sunset we made our way to the observation deck of the Sydney Tower just in time to see the sky turn red as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. Then as darkness fell over the city it changed again like a chameleon adapting to its new surroundings.

Manly Beach, Sydney : Where men are men, and sharks are spoilt for choice!

Sydney at night from the Sydney Tower.


Away from Sydney I took off to the Sunshine Coast and a small beach town called Coolum, where I stayed with some friends of friends. Phil, Cathy, their kids and their friends were typically Australians, laid back and friendly, making me feel like one of the family within no time.

I spent much of my time there just relaxing and taking a few deep breathes after what had been a surprisingly tiring travel schedule. I did, however, visit the colorful Eumundi Market at Noosa which reminded me of London’s Camden Market, or Portland’s Saturday Market. I also trekked up Mount Coolum with Cathy and the gang of kids, walked along the beaches avoiding the long stinger threads of bluebottle jellyfish that had become stranded by the tide, and of course joined the family on a surfing trip.

But no trip to Australia would be complete without seeing it’s world famous wildlife, and I was lucky enough to see just that starting with a fair few encounters of wild kangaroos, then a rare sighting of a koala in the trees.

Pictures from Coolum on the Sunshine Coast.

From Coolum I was scheduled to fly back to Sydney to catch a connection onto my next and final stop in Hong Kong. But Lisa, my second couch surfing host in Sydney, had suggested that I should join her for those last few hours in Australia rather than spend them in the airport terminal.


It turned out to be an inspired idea that gave me the opportunity to see the bright colors of Bondi Beach. Here the day was getting off to a slow beginning after what I’m quite sure had been a long night for all those who were now looking at the day through dark glasses and the haze of a late morning start.

Knowing that time would be limited Lisa had prepared a picnic and even made me a cake ahead of my birthday the following day. It was without a doubt a great way to spend my last few hours in Australia.

Bondi Beach.


Australia had been calling my name for years. People told me that I would fall in love with this country and that if I came here I would never leave. In another life that might well have been true, but as I sat there in the airport with my onward plane ticket in my hand, I was indeed leaving Australia.

It was a brief encounter, arresting like the striking smile of a passing stranger. Each of those moments felt like déjà vu, as if Australia and I had history we weren’t aware of, or maybe a history that’s yet to come.

So while this was the end of my time in Australia I couldn’t help but feel that maybe this was really just the beginning, and that while it is indeed on the other side of the world, Australia is not as far as it once was.

[Video] Sydney Skies- Circular Quay
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Long Way Home : The route